Skip to main content

Using the first- or second-person pronoun

Should I use the first-person pronoun in my academic text?

The first-person singular pronoun (‘I’) is normally avoided in research papers. This is because a lot of research is done in collaboration with other researchers, so the first-person plural (‘we’) is more appropriate.

Things are different when writing a PhD thesis, which is an individual effort. In this case, it is acceptable to use the pronoun ‘I’ to describe what you did in your work, or to reflect on your findings. But remember that the writing should still be neutral and objective.

In a journal article, unlike a PhD thesis, what the researcher(s) have done is less important than the methodology, results and conclusion that are reported. Nevertheless, using ‘we’ is acceptable and very common in STEM disciplines. For instance, if you want to report an analysis you have done, both ‘we performed a mixed-effects modeling analysis’ and ‘a mixed-effects modeling analysis was performed’ are possible.

If you are not sure which pronoun you should use for your text, or whether you should use a pronoun at all, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I writing a journal manuscript or a PhD thesis?
  • If I am writing a journal manuscript, were other researchers involved in the work I am reporting?
  • If I am writing a PhD thesis, is the sentence I am writing about reporting something I have done?